Editor's note: “Our 2020 Grads” is an occasional series highlighting 2020 graduates from schools and colleges at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
It’s not in Francesca Gutierrez’s nature to take the safe and predictable path. She loves the energy of big cities, thrives on meeting new people and exploring new places, and feeds off the excitement of emergency medicine where you “see a lot of variety – it keeps you on your toes.”
So, needless to say, keeping a lid on her boundless enthusiasm during the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge. She sat in front of a computer to finish the final round of rotations toward her Doctor in Pharmacy (PharmD) degree, and now faces the bittersweet prospect of a virtual commencement.
“It sucks,” Gutierrez candidly said of the canceled in-person graduation, which was being anticipated by her family members from the East and West coasts. “You put in so much work to get to this point. For some of us, we are the first doctors in our family, and our families have been very much looking forward to (attending the ceremony).”
Like campuses across the globe this spring, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences graduation, as well as the main University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus event, will take place via special virtual commencement ceremonies in late May.
Expecting social distancing guidelines to remain in effect, Gutierrez said she will likely coordinate a celebration with classmates via Zoom.
Interest in global health
She has made lots of friends during her four years at CU. In addition to working since 2017 as a pharmacy technician at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, Gutierrez, a native of Santiago, Chile, has been active in CU Pharmacy’s international student exchange program, which is operated through the student chapter of the American Pharmacists Association.
“Being from Chile, I’ve been very interested in global health and how pharmacies work abroad,” she said. “After all my training, I want to move abroad, preferably Europe, and work as a pharmacist.”
Through the international exchange program, Gutierrez has helped many exchange students set up shadowing visits in several different areas of pharmacy as well as get acquainted with their new surroundings. She loves snowboarding, having competed in winter sports at the University of Virginia as an undergraduate, so Gutierrez readily volunteers to tour students through the mountains. “You get to show them around Denver and Colorado,” she said. “It’s fun to meet new people.”
First doctor in family
Carving fresh tracks, whether on a mountain or in a career, is nothing new to Gutierrez. She is the first doctor in her family, which has shown a stronger leaning toward the financial services industry.
Taking a trip to Las Vegas for the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting are, from left, Shannon Ramsden, Kristin Ridgley, Francesca Gutierrez, Marissa Powell and Amanda Mueller.“Anytime someone needed patching up in my family, I was the one helping, because my mom doesn’t like blood,” she said. “I liked medical TV shows, and I’ve always really liked chemistry as well, so I thought pharmacy would be a good mix between healthcare and chemistry.”
‘Everyone I’ve met has been great.
The faculty are so accessible and
always made time when I had
questions about anything.’
– Francesca Gutierrez
She also likes how many career options exist under the pharmaceutical sciences umbrella – research and industry, community and retail, and hospitals and outpatient clinical work. Working weekend shifts in the pharmacy at St. Joseph’s solidified her passion. “I wanted to get my foot in and see if I liked working in the hospital or just liked the idea. I found out I really do enjoy it,” she said.
Heading to the Big Apple
With a one-year general pharmacy residency on the horizon, Gutierrez looks forward to immersing herself in another metropolitan area – this time New York City. On July 1, she begins residency at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. Because she wants to experience practicing pharmaceutical sciences in an emergency medicine setting, Gutierrez plans to do a second-year residency in the Emergency Medicine Department.
Not one for being pigeon-holed, Gutierrez anticipates that the ED “is a great way for me to keep refreshing and learning constantly.”
Francesca Gutierrez, center, with Lydia Chen, left, and Ana Bustos.
Chen and Bustos are international pharmacy students from Taiwan
and Costa Rica, respectively.
The coronavirus pandemic underscores healthcare workers’ significant societal value, pharmacists included. “It’s nice seeing pharmacists being valued more,” she said. “We approve all medications being dispensed, and we determine whether a drug is appropriate for a patient or if it interacts with other drugs.”
While the end of her CU Anschutz career won’t be the family-filled exclamation she’d hoped for, Gutierrez will still celebrate. She looks back fondly at everything she experienced, pandemic included.
“Everyone I’ve met has been really great. The faculty are so accessible and always made time when I had questions about anything,” she said. “It’s been a highly stressful time, but also a highly enjoyable time. I made some of my closest friends here. I’ve really enjoyed my time at CU.”